NEW YORK — A Libyan who is under indictment in the deadly 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa must arrive in New York and prove he cannot afford a lawyer before a public defender can be appointed to represent him, a judge said Friday.
U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan in Manhattan rejected an application from David E. Patton, head of the Federal Defenders of New York, to appoint an attorney for Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, also known as Abu Anas al-Libi.
The 49-year-old Ruqai was seized last Saturday and has been undergoing questioning aboard a U.S. Navy warship in the Mediterranean. He is charged in federal court in Manhattan with conspiracy to kill officers and employees of the United States at the embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Near-
simultaneous bombings in August 1998 at those embassies killed 224 people, including a dozen Americans.
In his application, Patton relied on a part of the federal criminal code’s rules requiring that a person making an arrest outside the United States take the defendant “without unnecessary delay” before a magistrate judge.
Federal prosecutors argued that the application is premature, in part because Ruqai “has not been criminally arrested.”
“Rather, he has been detained by the United States Armed Forces, acting under their own legal authorities,” the government told Kaplan.
The judge wrote that he was “mindful of the fact that Mr. Patton’s concerns may include the legality of the defendant’s current detention, assuming that he is not detained pursuant to an arrest on this indictment.”
Kaplan did not offer any guidance on ways Patton could raise that concern with military officials.
The judge said a decision whether to go forward with a criminal prosecution based on the Manhattan indictment is a decision for the executive branch of government.
“It remains to be seen whether such a prosecution will go forward,” Kaplan said.
Patton did not respond immediately to a message sent Friday seeking comment.
Ruqai has been on the FBI’s most-wanted terrorists list since it was introduced shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. A reward of $5 million was offered for his capture. The indictment against him claims his role in the 1998 bombings was to scout one of the targeted embassies for al-Qaeda.
His family and former associates have denied he was ever a member of al-Qaeda and have said he has lived an ordinary life since coming home in 2011.
Ruqai was captured as he returned to his Tripoli home from morning prayers.